Joanna Blyth­man says hur­rah for the hand­made gift

BBC Good Food - - Contents - @joannablyth­man Joanna Blyth­man

As Christ­mas ap­proaches, I try to keep a cool head, I re­ally do. I tell my­self that there’s no need to stress. Af­ter all, it’s just one big meal. But deep down, I’m fret­ting about stock­ing up for the days that food shops are closed and hav­ing some­thing to wel­come the fes­tive sea­son drop-ins from friends and fam­ily, as well as the vis­its we’ll make, where, for some rea­son or other, the usual bot­tle of wine or bunch of flow­ers doesn’t seem thought­ful or sea­sonal enough.

I man­age to hold my nerve when, af­ter Hal­loween, shops and super­mar­kets sprout their Christ­mas sea­sonal sec­tions. It’s ridicu­lously early for all that fes­tive fuss. Who needs those boxes of twee, over­pack­aged Le­bkuchen bis­cuits that con­tain more plas­tic and card­board than food? I’m al­ready strug­gling to find a pur­pose for all the sea­sonal bis­cuit tins that I’ve ac­cu­mu­lated over the years, and there’s a limit to the uses I can find for pot­tery jars once filled with stil­ton. I’m also wary of ‘foodie’ gifts, such as test tubes filled with lava sea salt, sugar swiz­zle sticks, smoked rape­seed oil, or ‘Christ­mas’ tea that smells and tastes like scented can­dles, ac­com­pa­nied by a mug with Santa on it. Bless the peo­ple who give them, but I’d rather they didn’t bother. Such pur­chases ac­cu­mu­late in the house around Christ­mas and then get palmed off on some other poor soul at New Year be­cause no-one re­ally wants to eat them and we’re all slightly hor­ri­fied at how much weight we’ve put on. Come Jan­uary, I’m pray­ing for a tombola that’s in need of prizes. A nice bot­tle of re­ally good olive oil, a tiny amount of some fan­tas­tic choco­late I’d never buy for my­self?

Let me be clear, I’m de­lighted to have them. But in re­al­ity, so many Christ­mas lines are pretty or­di­nary of­fer­ings, tarted-up ver­sions of foods that we would ei­ther ig­nore through­out the year, or buy cheaper and less os­ten­ta­tiously wrapped. Why do we keep buy­ing into poor value, waste­ful ‘sea­sonal’ ranges? Partly it’s panic, the nag­ging worry that we’ll get asked out and have noth­ing to take with us. But maybe we also feel in­se­cure in this con­sumerist so­ci­ety that we’re spend­ing enough to make sure that our house­hold fes­ti­val is suit­ably ‘spe­cial’? That pres­sure is in­tense and it’s women who feel it most acutely.

This year I’m de­ter­mined not to crack, not to suc­cumb to the glitz and tat of th­ese peren­nial sea­sonal lines. And be­lat­edly, I’ve re­alised that the very best Christ­mas food gifts that I’ve ever been given were home­made. My most mem­o­rable was a jar of In­dian-style pickle from a friend, who had been ma­tur­ing it since Oc­to­ber. I know this sounds corny, but in its re­cy­cled jam jar, with its hand­writ­ten la­bel, it re­ally melted my heart. It tasted won­der­ful, but what re­ally meant the most to me was that it con­tained that most pre­cious com­mod­ity: time, ef­fort and kind­ness of the per­son who made it for me. Now, that is spe­cial.

Good Food con­tribut­ing edi­tor Joanna is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten about food for 25 years. She is also a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to BBC Ra­dio 4.

So many Christ­mas lines are tarted-up ver­sions of foods that we would ig­nore through­out the year

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